Panel 1: Mass Cultural Self- Reflection
“Mass Culture Writing (About) Itself: Modern Periodical Culture and the Dispositif of Distraction.”
Ruth Mayer, Leibniz Universität Hannover
My talk aims to explore how mass culture enters into and informs the intellectual and artis- tic scenes of (early) American modernism. I will exemplarily focus on the productivity of the modernist little magazines, as emblematic sites of cultural modernization in the United States of the 1910s and 20s. I plan to show that there is a structural correspondence between the webbed, multi-layered, and cross-referencing organization of the magazine and the ways in which modernism at least from the 1910s onward unfolded as a series of projects, players and publishing venues on both sides of the Atlantic – so that modernism is more appropriately reflected in the multi-authored journal rather than the stand-alone work or ‘oeuvre.’ My focus will be on The Smart Set, a little magazine that situated itself deliberately at the boundary between avantgarde and entertainment culture and that capitalized on publishing short and ultrashort fiction. It professes to provide relaxation from the stress of modern life, but it does so while following a remarkably similar operational logic: it embraces the short and fast modes of communication and expression. Its strong reliance on anecdotes, sketches, aphorisms, glosses and other cursory modes of presentation marks the journal as up-to-date and immediate in its momentary and unfiltered exhibition of American modernity.
However, this will not be another paper on the fluctuating boundaries between the high and the low of modernism. This point has been made and it has been made convincingly. Taking off from past research, I rather want to show how mass culture ‘writes itself’ into modernism – through references and analogies, but more than this through techniques and formal features: narrative formulas, plots, and emergent genre conventions traveling between media and texts. My emphasis, consequently, will not be on how individual authors or texts made use of mass culture, but rather on how mass culture made use of them, through the medium of the little magazine. I will approach this nexus of activities through the cultural criticism of the Weimar scene, particularly the writings of Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin and the German school of psychotechnics of the 1920s and 30s, taking these writers’ engagement with the concepts of distraction and concentration as a point of departure.
Panel 2: Fragments, Wholes, Novelties, Avantgardes
“Assembling the Fragments.”
Rieke Jordan, Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main
My paper turns to the cultural and economic work of fragments. Fragmentation, collages, and montages enjoy high currency in modernist artistic and cultural expression – such as the early collages by Braque or Picasso, or the work of the Dadaists, or even scrap books or recipe books – that equally negotiate emergent mass culture markets and its avant-garde negotiations and subversions. I argue that the bringing together of disparate pieces to create a new whole helped modernist artists, housewives, and workers understand the fragmentation of time and space and helped grapple with new modes of mass production (i.e., the assembly line, high industrialization, print consumerism) at the turn of the century.
Taking the significance of the fragment in early American mass culture and avant garde artistry as a point of departure, I would like to take the opportunity to develop arguments about artistic and cultural fragmentation from two different vantage points. First: Fragments allow for a closer look at the question of crafting vs. producing. What can this tension between craft and art tell us about modernity and modernism (and modernization)? Can we see a shift from craft to art and back again?
Secondly: the fragment seems to place particular emphasis on the idea of a “new” whole… so what about “un-making” and rewinding? Are there early modernist notions of reverse motion in the arts, of disassembling the whole to pay attention to the parts? What about cultural expressions of disassembly, of putting time, people, objects into reverse? I say that these two concepts, crafting and rewinding vis-à-vis fragmentation, equally unlock questions about modernity and modernism and the period’s interest in production, standardization, and storytelling.
"On or About February 1913, Not That Much Changed, After All: The New York Armory Show, American Exhibition Culture, and the Modern Management of Novelty."
Florian Groß, Leibniz Universität Hannover
The so-called Armory Show of 1913 is often hailed as an incisive event that introduced Americans to artistic modernism and the historical avantgarde—seemingly overnight. Recently, critics and art historians have called into question the stereotypical picture of the “International Exhibition of Modern Art” as a radical break with the past by relating it to other early 20th century art exhibitions and emphasizing its continuity with the wider (art) culture of the day (Zurier, Sheets).
This paper aims to contribute to these revisionary approaches by looking more closely—and more generally—at the Armory Show’s primary medium: the exhibition. Placing it within this popular modern mode of presenting novelty, I will demonstrate how the show’s impact depended on an established exhibition culture that was thriving around the turn-of-the- century and ranged from international catch-all mega-events such as world’s fairs to more local and technology-centric exhibitions such as American Institute Fairs. The modern history of exhibitions and fairs reaches back well into the 19th century and constitutes a loose series of fleeting, temporary events that introduced and negotiated different forms of modern novelty within a recurring framework.
This presentation and management of novelty is also related to the fairs’ journalistic reception, which served as a mass cultural amplifier for an exhibition like the Armory Show. The outrage and derision present in the press is therefore not read in adversarial terms alone, but also as a crucial— and, as I will show, also firmly established—element of a productive feedback loop between two recurring mass media. Therefore, this paper places the inclusion of ‘radical’ artistic novelty at the Armory Show from February to March of 1913 (and afterwards in Chicago and Boston) in a broader context of exhibitions that spanned modernity and transcended the cultural distinctions between avantgarde and mass-cultural forms.
Panel 3: Advertising Modernity
"Telephonic Time(s), 1910-1918: AT&T, Advertisements, and Managerialist Modernity."
Martin Lüthe, Freie Universität Berlin
The beginning of AT&T’s marketing campaign in 1908 coincided with a challenging period for the telephone service in general and AT&T specifically, as business markets had been consolidated at the same time that alternative, so-called independent, providers were joining ranks to be more competitive vis-à-vis AT&T. In the first decade of the 20th century, we arguably witness the last stand against a telephonic monopoly in the United States. The ads I focus on in my talk were published systematically in the fashion of a serialized campaign that ran from 1908 to 1918.
I thus conceive of the early ads published by AT&T as a combination of marketing and education or rather education as marketing and view them as broadly embedded in efforts by AT&T to educate American publics about the potential uses and benefits of the telephone. Additionally, these ads contributed to producing a discourse about modern business life (and the businesses of modern life on the whole) and aspired to make a case for the positive aspects of quasi-monopolist organization with the pivotal invention of “universal service”. As a consequence, the AT&T marketing campaign in national print magazines can and must indeed be read as belonging to a larger social education campaign that stood right at the intersections of discourses of social behavior and the management of time, business, and life featuring the changing qualities of networked communication as its quintessential and binding element. Put simply, these ads facilitate communication about communication as a desirable emblem of two crucial markers within the discourse of modernity: sociability and managerialism.
In a broader sense what I set out to do is part of an effort to carve out that (and how) the advertisements that AT&T published in the years between 1908 and 1918 worked towards placing the telephone, telecommunications, and AT&T at the heart of a discourse about American modernity via specific images of time and networked entanglement as agents of progressive social and business management.
“Saturday Night is Tub Night: Civilizing the Child in Alice Beach Winter’s Visual Narratives of Mother- and Childhood, 1880-1920.”
Annabel Friedrichs, Leibniz Universität Hannover
In her advertisements for Ivory Soap circulated nationwide in women’s mass magazines, such as Cosmopolitan or Scribner’s, female illustrator Alice Beach Winter repetitively depicted mothers who confront their daughters with civilizatory practices that aim at priming them for future domestic tasks.
In my talk I will then show how the female illustrator is decisively taking part in the ‘management’ of feminine role drafts and young girls’ life trajectories. I argue that, in her advertisements, Winter is spelling political ideas of progressivist reform and hygiene in a highly trivialized manner: the context of commercial advertising illustrations is then not only literally ‘whitewashing’ an underlying political agenda of preempted domestication, where Winter ‘blue-prints’ one future for young girls. Also, I will read Winter’s advertisements as strikingly hybrid spheres where political discourses of progressivist social reform and hygiene are being trivialized through seemingly innocuous childhood imagery in a commercial context.
With her illustrations for Ivory Soap, Winter not only brought ideas of ‘proper’ child-rearing and practices of domestication (often in class-sensitive visual environments) to the fore. As I want to add and argue here, in the context of progressivist hygiene reform and the Comstock Law, Winter also conveyed underlying sociocritical messages for child welfare. After all, next to illustrating advertisements or children’s stories for mass publications like Collier’s, Century, Scribner’s, Metropolitan, or Cosmopolitan, Alice Beach Winter was above all a cartoonist and yearlong contributor and art editor for the radical socialist little magazine The Masses where, as the “Norman Rockwell of the Left” (Jones 12), she was known for her sentimental cartoons that criticized child labor or advocated birth control. Reading across the divides of mass and little magazines, as well as social critique and commerce, this contribution therefore argues that Winter indeed participated in the circulation of progressivist propaganda in possibly projecting certain demands for child welfare and ideas of ‘adequate’ child-rearing in contexts of hygiene and child-targeted progressivist reform into her advertisements for mass magazines known for addressing women and mothers.
Finally, in allowing for political readings within mass-appealing, serially, and commercially published advertisement illustrations, this contribution also seeks to shed light onto how early female magazine illustrators were indeed ‘drawing’ and thereby managing ideas of proper child-rearing and motherhood, as well as imaginations of children’s life trajectories. The project thereby provides new insight in the overlapping and mutually inspiring cultural spheres of childhood illustrations across little and mass periodicals, commerce and social critique.
Panel 4: German Avantgardes, Transatlantic Echoes
"Temporalities of the Man-Machine: Siegfried Krakauer's Modernist Metaphysics in 'Die Reise und der Tanz.'"
Lilean Buhl, Leibniz Universität Hannover
My presentation will be concerned with one modernist point of intersection between temporality and modernity’s concept of physicality – Siegfried Kracauer’s “Die Reise und der Tanz”, from 1923. I shall place this essay into the genealogy of modern physicality as conceptualized by writers and artists like the futurist-feminist poet Mina Loy and dadaist phenomenon Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven in the New York City avantgarde of the 1910s. Their reworking of the premodern corporal metaphoric was later theorized and concretized by German authors like Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer, who both laid particular emphasis not only on the changing physicality of modern subjects, but also the rapidly metamorphosing temporal metaphysics that dictated the tact of these bodies’ everyday existence. These lines of thought seem to culminate in Kracauer’s essay, where he calls into question the possibility for the modern subject’s individuality, tackles developments like technological progress, and, just incidentally, invents a novel system of signs to explore the physical dimensions of space and time. He designates the mass trends “Travel and Dance” as escapist and eventually futile reactions in the face of the new epistemology of modernity’s economic and social hyper-rationalized mechanization, where people “do not become rulers of the machine, but become machine-like” (219) instead. This anointment gives us the opportunity to trace the development of the analytic thought from its avantgarde origins to its applications in the academic study of mass culture, years before this form of Marxist critique was canonized by the Frankfurt School. The paper aims at rescuing an incidental work from an under-analyzed author while simultaneously showcasing how formative mass phenomena were to the creation of modernist epistemologies. During the presentation, the topic’s relationship to other modernist artistic and literary movements will be indicated, and, in some cases, expanded upon.
"Montages of Modernity. Correlations between the Aesthetics of Magazines, Literature, and Cinematography in the Weimar Republic."
Marcus Krause, Universität zu Köln
Henri Lefebvre’s classical analysis of the Production of Space describes the 1910s as a time during which the solidity of space was shattered in various ways. According to this analysis not only the concepts of Euclidean and perspectivist space were fragmented, but also the homogeneity of communication practices, political power, knowledge and moral reflections. My presentation will refer to this observation and extend it by asking first, how such fragments are recombined into new orders and arrangements, and second, how such recombinations are dependent on the media in which they occur. For this purpose, I will look at periodicals of the time because the periodical can be considered the medium of modernity that probably has the longest history of integrating, interrelating, and assembling different voices, various genres, and divergent discourses.
My closer focus will be on magazines of German Expressionism (like Die Aktion, Der Sturm and Die weißen Blätter) and the way these magazines observe and reflect the revolutions of modern media culture and especially the innovations of cinematography. These magazines will provide the material for an analysis of four fields: 1) analytical essays on media and 2) the aesthetics of the literary writings published in these magazines, 3) the movie culture addressed in these texts and 4) the magazine page and issue as a media format. The technique of montage will provide an aspect to which all these fields relate and by means of which the medial regimes of the literary, the magazine, and the movie of the 1910s can be described in their differences and their similarities.
Panel 5: Literary and Theological Engagements with Modern Times
“From The Christian Oracle to The Christian Century: Avant-garde Preaching and Protestant Mass Media.”
Philipp Reisner, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Founded in 1884 in Des Moines, Iowa, The Christian Oracle was a denominational magazine of the Disciples of Christ that became the most important organ of the Protestant mainline. In 1900, it was renamed The Christian Century, marking its transition to a magazine oriented to religious mass media that transcended narrow denominational circles. From its beginning, The Christian Century contained short sermons and meditations on biblical passages as well as reflections on preaching, as it shifted from denominational to more universal concerns that came to characterize the Protestant mainline. The renaming of the magazine marks not only the controversial turn to mass culture, but also a rivalry between the elite and the masses, between two different conceptions of society that defined early twentieth-century culture.
During its first twenty years, The Christian Century presented diverse views of preaching and the avant-garde, which developed in response to the need to mediate the tension between the elites and the masses. The journal printed parables, prayers, poems, and stories, shedding light on literary developments from the point of view of periodical studies and religious culture. In this context, important questions of time and modernity are negotiated in the attempt to redefine the sermon and clarify its shifting and disputed function as a medium of religious and political communication. Examining the sermons and literary contributions in The Christian Century in their periodical and theological contexts may compel us to revise our understanding of time and modernity. This interpretive strategy is unique for periodical studies in that it allows us to compare two different conceptions of modernity, namely, from the perspective of Protestant theology and from the perspective of Anglo-American literature. Both conceptions arose during the founding period of The Christian Century.
"The Promise of Drug Use and Modernity: Unveiling a Parallel (1893) as Avantgardist Challenge to the Crisis Narrative."
Katharina Motyl, Universität Mannheim
As U.S. society became less Victorian and more ‘Gilded’ over the last decades of the nineteenth century, contemporaries identified a pressing social problem they understood as metonymically related to ‘modernity’ itself: addiction. Hegemonic narratives of the time conceptualized the consumption of narcotics (the development and administration of which had been made available by ‘modern’ technology, in the first place, cf. Hickman 2004) as a practice with which white Americans from the middle and upper classes sought to cope with the acceleration, the technological change, the economic cataclysm, and the concomitant overtaxing of nerves ‘modernity,’ according to these narratives, symbolized. Contemporary conceptions of addiction were highly gendered: while addiction in white men was framed as the epitome of ‘modernity’s’ assault on autonomy and agency, hegemonic discourses of the late nineteenth century, as Susan Zieger has shown, cast the female addict as “a defective model of bourgeois femininity because she is dependent on the wrong things (that is, not on men)ˮ (Zieger 2008: 150), and portrayed women’s self-administering hypodermic morphine, which signified women’s pleasuring themselves, as a particularly “monstrousˮ idea (Zieger 2008: 135).
Alongside these hegemonic portrayals, which conceptualized addiction as inherently related to ‘modernity’ and both as indexing crisis, there were attempts by cultural workers of the avantgarde which sought to explore the liberating dimensions of both drug use and modernity. In the utopian science fiction novel Unveiling a Parallel: a Romance (1893) by authors Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, female characters consume drugs on Mars – and generally lead lives that would have been considered highly unconventional at the time. The novel constitutes the only known cultural production of the era in which female characters consume drugs without being subjected to negative consequences in the story world. I read Jones’ and Merchant’s novel, then, as the attempt to conceptualize ‘modernity’ as an opportunity: having brought about changes that were considered impossible just decades earlier such as technological innovation and acceleration, ‘modernity,’ in Jones’ and Merchant’s view, also promises fundamental alterations in the realm of the social, that is, pertaining to gender roles and thus, to the life opportunities available to women. Significantly, Jones and Merchant were neither part of the transatlantic jetset nor of the East coast avantgarde – residents of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, these two women writers performatively complicate received notions of ‘modern’ / modernist American literary production.
Panel 6: Newspaper Comics and the Question of Time
“‘The Bicycle of Time,’ or How the Comic Section Was Set in Motion.”
Christian A. Bachmann, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
The turn of the twentieth century marks the rise of two new modes of private transport: the bicycle, being the first to be employed by the ‘masses’ from the 1880s onwards, and the ‚horseless carriage‘, i.e. the automobile which becomes more widely available after 1900. Both continue and intensify a general development of setting bipedal humans in increasingly fast wheel-based locomotion. Artists of illustrated (oftentimes satirical) periodicals, ‘camp[ing] on the semiotic borders of the rapidly expanding industrial and colonial world’, took ‘note of the emerging technologies brought about by the Industrial Revolution’ and ‘always found some way to make humorous sense of the new by hybridizing it with some familiar idiom’, as Thierry Smolderen (2014: 98) pointed out. Appropriately,German artist Ernst Retemeyer welcomes the new year in the first issue of Kladderadatsch of this year with a cover illustration showing Chronos rushing in new times on a hurtling ‘Velo der Zeit’ [bike of time]. Legions of biking women and men follow suit as old man “1898” limps along and is ultimately, one assumes, kicked aside. Similarly, the automobile section of the San Francisco Call of December 31, 1912 depicts the new year as a boy in a roadster being given a little push by Chronos. Accordingly, this paper looks at the way private transportation is depicted in visual satire and comic strips from a transatlantic perspective. It seeks to highlight how around 1900 the comics, taking pointers from European satirical imagery, turn the new-found mobility with novel means of transportation into a spectacle of blunders, accidents, and explosions. In doing so, this paper does not merely discuss thematic shifts, but focusses on the semiotics of the spectacular that, in the fledgling stages of comics—in 1900 a very young medium—is only just beginning to take shape under the influence of contemporary issues and well-established modes of representation.
"Social Time, Periodical Time, Reading Time, Dream Time: Competing Temporalities and Narrative Experimentation in Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, 1905/06."
Felix Brinker, Leibniz Universität Hannover
Positioning itself between "high-culture motives and high-octane, visceral entertainment" (Smolderen), Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905 - 1926) has by now been canonized as a classic that redefined the storytelling parameters of the still young comics medium. Jared Gardner, for example, notes that Little Nemo capitalized on the "open-ended seriality" of the Sunday newspaper to generate a ceaselessly unfolding and (potentially) endless serial narrative that prefigured the storytelling strategies of later strips. Similarly, Scott Bukatman suggests that "Little Nemo […] transformed the representation of space in comics" through its playful use of variable panel sizes, diverse page layouts, and a general emphasis on "wildly metamorphosing objects" and spatial disorder. Focusing on early episodes of McCay's strip, my paper argues that Little Nemo 's idiosyncratic aesthetics were informed by an attempt to mediate between different temporal orders that all impinged on the strip's narrative operations: between a general social calendar of workdays, weekends, holidays, and special occasions, the periodical publication schedules of the newspaper, the less structured and more personal temporality of comics reading, and the contrast between dreamtime and waking life that plays out in each installment. More precisely, I suggest that the first six months of Little Nemo's run constituted a period of formal and thematic experimentation in which the strip's relationship to the competing demands of these temporalities were gradually worked out.
Introduced as a weekly feature in the New York Herald's Sunday edition, Little Nemo began its run as a relatively conventional strip whose episodes reiterated a familiar narrative premise—the titular characters' perpetually deferred journey's into Slumberland and subsequent re-awakening—week after week. Oscillating between order and disorder, between dream and reality, and between narrative progress and deferral, the first installments of McCay's comic thus subscribed to a storytelling principle that was also at work in other popular strips of the period. At the same time, the early episodes of McCay's packaged their formulaic and circular plots in dense formal arrangements that included eye-catching visuals, constantly shifting page designs, and a copious amount of text-based narration that refused to line up with panel borders and encapsulated narrative events. As a result, early episodes foregrounded comics' characteristic tension between images and text in a way that required readers to attentively parse the causal and spatial relations between panels and events. This complicated form called for time-consuming and non-linear reading practices, as well as for an attitude of readerly repose that resonated well with the special status of Sunday newspapers—which more generally positioned themselves as a type of publication that existed between the humdrum of the work week and the 'free' leisure time of the weekend. The content of these early installments furthermore sought to sync Nemo's adventures to the schedules of a more general social calendar. In this manner, Nemo's journey into Slumberland was repeatedly interrupted by timely appearances of Santa Claus (Christmas 1905), Father Time (New Year’s Eve), or the Easter Bunny—a scheduled divergence from the routines of a narrative formula built around an endless journey of unexpected detours and distractions. However, in the spring of 1906 the strip began to adopt a more streamlined and linear narrative form that emphasized the forward-directed drive of open-ended serial narration. This shift towards ongoing (rather than re-iterative) plots coincided with a gradual phasing out of the strip's verbose textual narration and the appearance of larger panels that now had to 'speak' for themselves. In summary, these shifts resulted in a much more efficient narrative form that went on to characterize the strip in the following decades. My paper suggests that these changes are best understood as expressions of a gradual (and necessarily incomplete) process of formal emancipation in which the strip established its own storytelling parameters and narrative temporalities—a development that calls attention to the multiple and sometimes competing temporal orders of early 20th century mass culture.